‘Happy Birthday’ copyright held invalid
Until now, Warner has asked for royalties from anyone who wanted to sing or play “Happy Birthday to You” — with the lyrics — as part of a profit-making enterprise. Royalties were most often collected from stage productions, television shows, movies or greeting cards. But even those who wanted to sing the song publicly as part of a business, say a restaurant owner giving out free birthday cake to patrons, technically had to pay to use the song, prompting creative renditions at chain eateries trying to avoid paying royalties.
I hope this is the death knell of every non-‘Happy Birthday’ song all of those tchotchke-full restaurants have been forcing their underpaid and overworked waitstaffers to sing to uncomfortable diners.
“Happy birthday” lawsuit takes a(n unexpectedly interesting) turn
Did you know copyright lawyers have waged a legal battle over ‘Happy Birthday’ for a long time? They have, and, somehow, it recently got interesting.
If this proposition is accepted by the judge, Warner/Chappell may lose out on a cash cow that is reported to reap $2 million a year in revenue. Filmmakers like the named plaintiffs — and others who have forked over as much as six figures to license — would no longer have to pay a penny to feature “Happy Birthday” in motion pictures and television shows.
If the copyright the company has been using for years to charge people licensing fees is invalidated, we may see a whole lot of lawsuits aimed at the would-be copyright holders to recoup those licensing fees.
“Birthday candles,” Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
How the DMCA criminalized DIY farm equipment repair
Kyle Wiens, writing at Wired:
Manufacturers have every legal right to put a password or an encryption over the tECU. Owners, on the other hand, don’t have the legal right to break the digital lock over their own equipment. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act—a 1998 copyright law designed to prevent digital piracy—classifies breaking a technological protection measure over a device’s programming as a breach of copyright. So, it’s entirely possible that changing the engine timing on his own tractor makes a farmer a criminal.
It’s not just “entirely possible,” if he’s circumventing “a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under” copyright law1, he’s committing a crime.
And those folks trading information or even hardware meant to help one another get around the manufacturers’ security measures, they’re criminals, too. The law says:
No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that [enables or encourages its use in circumvention].2
The DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions were poorly drafted, are overbroad, and reflect a lack of understanding by Congress of the specific problems caused by digital copyright infringement and more appropriate solutions. If you’re interested in learning more about the problems caused by the DMCA, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has done some great work toward reforming, if not the DMCA itself (yet), its interpretation and implementation.
What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2015?
Duke Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain:
Current US law extends copyright for 70 years after the date of the author’s death, and corporate “works-for-hire” are copyrighted for 95 years after publication. But prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years—an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years. Under those laws, works published in 1958 would enter the public domain on January 1, 2015, where they would be “free as the air to common use.” Under current copyright law, we’ll have to wait until 2054.
Thanks to Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing for sharing.
Houston, We Have A Public Domain Problem
Parker Higgins of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, lamenting the recent removal of a public domain NASA clip he posted on the audio sharing site SoundCloud:
The real goofy bit is that before I started at EFF, I worked at SoundCloud. I actually uploaded this Apollo 13 clip, along with sounds from Apollo 11 and others, as part of a project to attract more historic and archival audio and really celebrate the public domain as a rich source of sounds.
Copyright law has been trending in favor of rights holders for a long time. That’s precisely why unlawful claims of copyright over public domain works are so despicable.
CrossFit sends trademark takedown demand
The lesson here: the Digital Millennium COPYRIGHT Act contains no enforcement mechanism for TRADEMARK rights.
What is Intellectual Property Law?
It’s not surprising that more scholarship self-identifying as IP-focused is about patents. After all, they drive much of commerce and innovation (and arguably the problems with the two) in the industrial and technology sectors.
It’s worth noting though that, unlike much of the protection afforded by a patent, many copyright protections are available even without registration, although it’s admittedly difficult to enforce them via litigation and to win statuory damages without timely registration.
Check out this PDF by the U.S. Copyright Office for more information.